I am so representative of the Sandwich Generation that I may as well be salami with a nice slice of provolone. The “Sandwich Generation”—the term that has come into use to describe those of us who are taking care of both children and parents—is a growing reality, and I suspect several of you reading are card-carrying members of this special club. You know you are in this group if someone asks you for your date of birth or Social Security number and you have to think hard because your parent’s or your kid’s numbers come to mind first.
It’s just a fact of life, but some days are more “sandwich-y” than others. Having my octogenarian mom living with us can make for a 3’ submarine sandwich, where some days I’m dealing with “the sick kid shuffle” (you know—the rearranging/redefining you need to do with your day when your child is sick and home from school), while I’m on hold with my mom’s doctor to have test results sent Somewhere Else, trying to deal with a barrage of emails, then there’s that pesky thing called “work,” and the dogs are whining to be let out. (The dogs don’t play an “official” role in the Sandwich, thankfully…they just add color to the situation.) On an average day, it simply means scheduling her doctors’ appointments so they don’t conflict with having to pick my kid up from school or some other activity…just another consideration in the juggle struggle.
Overall, it means seeing to the parent’s well-being in a similar way that you do your child’s. But. There is a big but, my friends (just one T on the big “but”…this time)…It does NOT mean treating said parent AS the child. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. That will buy you a heap o’ trouble. It is an art in which I frequently fall short. Can you relate? An aging parent needs support and care, while at the same time they do not want to admit that they need the support and care because it means they are diminishing in some ways. And trying to find the fine line to walk, wherein you are helping without being too helpful can be like walking a minefield.
A classic rough spot for me is doctors talking to me rather than my mom, though she is sitting right there. For the life of me, I don’t know why doctors don’t have better technique in this respect, but I know I would not like being the third party subject of the conversation while someone looks past me. So I find my diplomacy skills grow, as I redirect the conversation to my mom, while at the same time gently filling in any blanks that she may leave. Even with my diplomacy, though, we often leave the doctor with my mother fuming at being treated like a child…and since her generation doesn’t typically spout off to doctors, guess who gets the ire? Ah, life.
There is so much more to say on this topic, but my intention is not to bore you (really—I mean it). I’m just scraping the surface here because I merely want to say that for those of you going through similar challenges, you are not alone. And sometimes just knowing that helps. Some days you want to just curl up and say “enough,” but we keep on carrying on. Because we have to. And hopefully you have someone in your immediate world who takes care of you now and then. Remember to let them do that for you. And if you feel guilty when, for instance, your understanding spouse (like mine) tells you to go have a girls’ night out, remind yourself that you can’t take care of anyone else if you’ve fallen apart.
So if not for yourself, then for those who depend on you: don’t forget to be a caregiver to yourself, too.
And for those of you who aren’t officially in the Sandwich Generation, you better buckle your seatbelt because odds are your bumpy ride is right down the road. Don’t worry, though—we who are living this now will try to draw you a map—it’s just that it might have some missed turns, wrong directions, and a few unnecessary detours. It’ll be like a Garmin in need of an update. Hey, what do you expect? We’re doing the best we can.